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Well Intended / It's not just cooking: Julia Child's simple recipe for success

Published 8:14 am, Saturday, December 21, 2013
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Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.

Julia Child

I occasionally saw Julia Child when I lived in Cambridge. A foot taller than me, she was hard to miss.

I was in awe of her. She seemed to know exactly who she was at a time when I was still trying to become someone else.

Behind her in line at the bakery or cheese monger, she efficiently ordered a little of this and a little of that. I would shrink into the insecurity of my own indecision. It didn't matter that I didn't know whether to ask for the camembert or brie. What unsettled me was that I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. Perhaps it's not uncommon for young women to wonder how they will craft their lives into something productive and satisfying.

We expect much and naively believe that the path will be straight. And when we come across women we admire, I imagine we often feel inadequate.

Newly married, I put to use the culinary wedding gifts we had acquired. I julienned and sauteed and considered how I might one day be of some use. In the years that followed, I cooked, read and walked while I waited for something to happen. I went back to school and began to let other people read the stories that I had always written. I became a mother. I continued to question everything. It never occurred to me that this was any sort of progress.

The Westport Library has selected "My Life In France" by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme as the 2014 WestportREADS book. A decade after those Cambridge honeymoon years, I read this book over a frozen weekend. Newly and devastatingly divorced, my children were with their father when I fell into the story of Julia Child's life and how she developed and followed her passion and painstakingly gained expertise.

Her life wasn't as simple as I had pictured it. She didn't grow up knowing that she was going to revolutionize the way we cook, eat and think about food.

She had no inkling that she would become the first celebrity chef. She solved problems as they came. She pursued her interests. She proceeded one step at a time, as we all do, learning and experimenting, failing and trying-again.

Her words comforted me and her advice was the salve I needed.

"To be a good cook you have to have a love of the good, a love of hard work, and a love of creating," she said in "Particular Passions: Talks With Women Who Have Shaped Our Times." I imagine her words are relevant to all pursuits.

I didn't know how all of my experiences and experiments would inform my future. But I had already learned to follow my passion.

I knew that if I didn't listen to myself and grow in a way that was meaningful to me, I would be of no use to anyone.

Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at kristarichardsmann@gmail.com.